Nation branding, while not entirely new, has yet to fully penetrate the academic world, especially when it comes to comprehensive studies on the Latin American and Caribbean region. Aglaë Perrin recently completed her academic journey at UCL in London, UK. Here she reflects on her Master thesis – the process of writing it and the key insights she gained.
Aglaë, what inspired your exploration into Nation Branding, especially focusing on the Latin American and Caribbean region?
From the beginning of the MSc in International Relations of the Americas course at UCL, we were told the importance of our dissertations. Professors pushed us to start them as soon as possible, however, I had not a clue what I wanted to do my research project on.
One day, in a virtual class where others shared their ideas, I started talking about my experience in advertising, and how I wish there were such a topic where I could combine my work experience with the knowledge I was accumulating in the course.
Then that night, as my brain was scrambling to find a topic I could submit, I thought of the idea of country branding and typed it into Google to see if the concept existed and there it was, Nation Branding, which is how the whole research process started.
From there on, I started to look at case studies and read loads of materials to refine my project, and I found that the Latin American and Caribbean had yet to be explored in academia, which worked in my favour as this was the main region I focused on throughout the course.
The selection of Costa Rica for my project came about as I read about different countries in the region and the country stood out due to its sustainability approach, global leadership role in promoting peace and human rights, whilst being one of the smaller in-land nations of the region.
The question of, ‘What should be considered as a successful Nation Brand?’ came about later, after I conducted interviews where further gaps in the current literature became more apparent.
What objectives guided your research on Costa Rica’s Nation Branding?
When I first started my research, the main goal was to find out the gaps in the literature which I would intend to fill, or initiate conversations about. When it became clear that the LAC region was under-examined, I then chose a country which appeared to have a set of differentiating factors, as well as, a unique Nation Brand entity, which proved to be true for Essential Costa Rica.
As I started to narrow down my project through readings and preparing for qualitative interviews in San José, my aim was to unpack how Costa Rica established its strong Nation Brand. Through the collection of information from the interviews, the narrative of my paper became clearer, I wanted to examine how Essential Costa Rica aligned with the current literature and success measurement paradigms already designed by experts in the field.
As the first part of my title suggests, I became aware that the concept of Nation Branding had evolved from its first appearance in the literature by Simon Anholt, and has since become much larger than a mere concept reflecting international business practices, but rather flourished into an entire new industry which had yet to be explored by academics in the field.
Therefore, to summarize, the aims of my research were to provide a case study for the LAC region in the Nation Branding space, delve into an under-explored industry by showcasing the current paradigms used in this field, and critically explore the extent to which these paradigms reflect the level of success of a Nation Brand in contemporary times.
Could you share the major findings from your study on Nation Branding and Costa Rica’s unique position in it?
Firstly, Nation Branding as a concept in academia has received a large sum of backlash due to its capitalistic nature with economic accumulation at its core. This is further exemplified by the industry as the success measurement paradigms, although encompassing a multitude of factors, focus on measuring the economic revenue of the Nation Brand.
However, I argue that this is an antiquated view of development as since 1996, when the concept first emerged, sustainable development is now at the epicentre of foreign policy conversations. Therefore, embedding the Sustainable Development Goals into the success measurement paradigms rather than an overarching ‘Governance’ factor would prove to align with modern conversations and perhaps diminish the controversy around the subject of Nation Branding.
Secondly, the case of Costa Rica proved to be of special interest in this project as its Nation brand entity, Essential Costa Rica, has a very unique advantageous governance structure. The entity is formed by six different institutions which many of the interview participants believe contributes to the success of their Nation Brand; however, the literature and industry fail to mention this nuance when analysing and measuring the formation of a successful Nation Brand.
Additionally, Essential Costa Rica prides itself on being of apolitical and areligious nature and depicted on a presidential decree. It argues that removing itself from these agendas ensures its success and the project’s longevity; however, no literature on the subject mentions this importance or how other Nation Brands have approached these sensibilities.
Moreover, questions surrounding authenticity and ethicality emerged as currently the natural beauty of the country as well as environmental statistics are consistently used in Essential Costa rica’s promotional materials, although the Ministry of the Environment is yet to be represented in their governance structure.
Similarly, the local population is yet to be involved in the Nation Brand agenda and many locals whom I chatted to during my stay were not aware of Essential Costa Rica.
However, the Nation Brand entity uses its people in their promotional messaging and visuals with a whole page dedicated to the country’s talent. Therefore, I argue that incorporating the local population could enhance the brand authenticity and avoid potential discourse of unethicality.
In light of your findings, what potential areas of research do you see emerging in the realm of Nation Branding?
As briefly mentioned above, there are quite a few gaps that are to be further explored in future research, most importantly the embeddedness of the Sustainable Development Goals into Nation Brands and ensuring success measurement paradigms take into consideration this layer.
Other researchers in the field should research how and if Nation Branding can in fact be modernized to reflect current discussions in foreign policy.
Likewise, Nation brands’ authenticities and ethicalities should be further explored. My research displayed a very brief introduction that there may be some ‘grey’ areas, but more dedication and larger projects would showcase the reality of these issues.
An analysis of different Nation Brands’ formation across the globe in respect to political / religious agendas and policies surrounding them, is another potential area of research, this could also provide insight for countries who attempt to rebrand or change their Nation Branding strategies.
Local population involvement is of specific interest for future studies as we live in a world of instant communication and demand for transparency.
Moreover, in-depth case studies of other Nation Brands in the LAC region should also be an area of interest for researchers as many of the countries of the region have diversified their economies in order to bring their competitiveness to the next level and remain relevant.
Now that you’ve successfully completed your thesis, what are your future aspirations in the field of Nation Branding?
Thanks to Florian Kaefer, I am currently a Trainee here at The Place Brand Observer, where I am focusing on updating the country profiles through editorial and research work, this is the first step to establish myself in this space.
What really interests me is the consulting side of the industry where one provides nations with country-specific strategies based on in-depth research and the use of large data sets.
Within the next 10 years, I would like to move back home, Bermuda, and introduce a Nation Brand project which goes beyond its current destination brand strategy. Therefore, my current aspiration is to continuously grow within the Place Branding space to gather the practical skill sets and knowledge which will later help me reach the Bermuda project objective.
Aglaë Perrin is a French and Italian national who has had an international upbringing living seven years in Bermuda from the age of 11, moving to the UK for her studies at the age of 18. For her undergraduate programme she studied Spanish and Business Management at King’s College London and spent a year abroad in Chile. This course of study was inspired by her intrigue of the Latin American region and passion for the Spanish language.
Once graduated, she worked in digital advertising, introducing her to the complexity of modern-day marketing. However, Aglaë continued to search for an outlet to expand her knowledge and understanding of the global stage. This is when she chose to apply for the MSc programme of International Relations of the Americas at UCL.
Connect with Aglaë on LinkedIn.